Aspects of Hell

Brian Marks, Senior Lecturer

Course: ENGLISH 192, SEM 010
Class Number: 29186
Credits: 3 HU
Time: TR 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM
Place: BOL B80

Course Description:

Where is hell? Can I get directions on MapQuest? Who goes to hell? Will I go to hell? Do unbaptized babies go to hell? Do we still believe in a place for the eternal punishment of wicked souls? Why does Satan have horns and a tail, and what kind of product does he put in his hair? Why does evil so often appear in the form of snakes? What role does hell play in serving heaven? Is hell just a Christian idea? What is it about hell that we find so repelling and fascinating? Would I have taken this course if it was called Aspects of Heaven?

In this course, we will attempt to answer those questions and other questions about hell by examining literary and cinematic representations of hell. We are going to start off by going to the source, way back to pre-Christian accounts of journeys to the underground and gradually make our way up to conceptions of hell in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. We will be focusing on literary texts mainly because most of our present day impressions of hell come from literary and pictorial depictions of hell not from religious texts. However, we will also take a look at some of those religious texts.

Work Involved:

The class material will mainly be literary based, but we’ll also check out representations of hell in art, graphic novels, film, and music. The class theme will be dark, but the internal light of knowledge will shine to help us see our way through. Serious people know how to joke, and so will we. Death and damnation is too serious to take seriously (all the time). You will present material for class analysis and discussion. Background readings will be available in the reserve room. You should expect to write about and discuss various aspect of hell and how what is invisible influences the visible life in profound ways.

Course goals:

  • You’ll work on analyzing literary texts, films, and cultural customs for their similarities and differences
  • You’ll develop and present your own understanding of these concepts in written and spoken form.
  • You’ll discuss and write about questions related to hell for a variety of audiences.
  • You’ll learn how to use print and electronic resources to examine course topics.
  • You’ll become familiar with campus resources and broaden your understanding of campus life.
  • Most importantly, you’ll ultimately develop a personal theory of the existence of hell, its function, and physical and psychological state.

Sample Reading:

The reading list will include excerpts from Virgil's Aeneid, Dante's Inferno, Milton's Paradise Lost, William Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell, T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland, C.S. Lewis' Screwtape's Letters, and Neil Gaiman's graphic novel The Sandman. We will also check out some movies like Fight Club and American Psycho.

About the Instructor:

My scholarship tends to focus on comparative mythology. I am currently writing a novel that broaches some of the themes discussed in this class. This fall will be my fourth semester teaching this class, and I am astounded that the topic continues to be a fun and enlightening investigation into the depths of humanity.